Wednesday, April 20, 2011

effective surprise...

Researchers studying music are attempting to understand why some causes emotional response and some does not, as described in this article in the New York Times, To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons, by Pam Belluck.
"Research is showing...  that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.

And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns."
Jerome Bruner's concept of "effective surprise" should have been a thing explored by the writer for the New York Times, as it helps to explain why some executions of musical works are merely that, executions, leaving the work dead, the listener as much so, and some are awakenings. In explaining effective surprise, Bruner quotes Yeats,
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone.
And so teachers, too, should learn to think in the marrow bone. Effective surprise is a tool that wood workers utilize in creating lasting work, or that a chemistry teacher seeks to engage in the laboratory to capture the lasting interest of his scholars. Get it?

The photo above was simply selected from my collection of original photography. Even photography makes use of "effective surprise."

Today we had "creative day" in the wood shop for the first, second and third grade students at Clear Spring School. It is a kind of a teacher's nightmare, as I try to be attentive to each scholar, as they ask for this and that, and need help and materials to make things that have captured their own particular interest. But it is immensely rewarding to see what the children come up with and to witness their enthusiasm. Two of the first grade girls wanted to make stools, and three of the third grade girls wanted to make doll beds or cribs. 

Make, fix and create.


  1. Fascinating as usual Doug, it made me think of the Ashokan Lament ( a very moving piece for me. But it may be that I was watching Ken Burn's 'Civil War' at the time.

  2. Fascinating as usual Doug, it made me think of the Ashokan Lament ( a very moving piece for me. But it may be that I was watching Ken Burn's 'Civil War' at the time.

  3. Anonymous6:13 PM

    Well, this is an interesting coincidence. I was just thinking that it was time to reread Daniel Levitin's book This Is Your Brain On Music. Levitin is a rock musician turned neuroscientist, and though his book is fairly dense at times, it gets at much of the same material as the article you mention.


  4. I can see how the journey from the known to the unknown will involve discovery, change and surprise. When our hands and minds work together learning becomes a harmonious symphony. Does this mean that when I feel like the conductor of an orchestra instead of a science teacher that I'm really doing my job?

  5. Mario, that is an interesting coincidence as Daniel's research is mentioned in the article.

  6. Ashokan Lament is a beautiful piece and the youtube video is exquisite. Ken Burns Civil War is an amazing documentary. Thanks.